Last week on my way into town traveling 70 mph I saw what I thought was a photograph. I was even compelled enough to turn around to get another look to see if it was indeed something worth recording. Someone had plowed their field and the snow had not melted in the bottoms of the rows. These created dark and light patterns in the field that I thought were interesting.
It made me think of all the times I see an image and, even though I may even have my camera with me, I keep driving. Photography helps us see. Diane Arbus said, "I really believe there are things nobody would see if I didn't photograph them."
In our busy lives we are always looking but, very often, we are not seeing. At least we are not actively seeing. Most of the time we are in our head and it decides what we see. Our mind is filtering out every moments reality and replaying some distant memory it has become familiar with. When we put the camera up to our eye we begin leave a mind full of thoughts and come to start seeing selectively. The viewfinder limits our would to just what we want.
It is said that a beginner photographer will use a wide angle lens to get the most into their photograph. As they begin to understand what interests them they start using longer and longer lenses to then start to isolate their subject. Even when they switch back to a wide angle lens they still are very specific in what is include in their photograph. You can often tell how developed an artist is by what they include in their art-and what they don't.
Everyone has a different perspective. A true artist can demonstrate their perspective in their work. As they mature they begin developing style. I look for this when I look at art.
I put together some ideas to help the photographer see.
I actually found this list from something I wrote a while back to help me think outside the box.
- Look for lines and angles. Buildings, bridges, and man made objects are geometric and their lines make for interesting images.
- Patterns and symmetry. There are patterns everywhere and photographing them with a unique perspective can make for interesting images.
- Light and shadows. The use of light and shadow is what photography is all about. Look for unique ways in which light plays on a landscape or object.
- Balance. In composition we want a balance between objects in our photograph. If an image is heavily weighted it draws the viewer to that part sacrificing the rest of the image. Similarly, voids in an image can also be distracting. The whole image must work together to keep the viewer engaged.
- Unique perspective. Most photographs are taken at eye level because we see at eye level. When photographing something low get down to its level. Don't forget to look up or down to see if there is something a little different. I've been known to climb on things to get that different perspective. By shifting to an unusual perspective we immediately make our image unique.
- Color. The use of color or the lack of it can help make a photograph. The use of complementary colors within an image helps to balance it and is very pleasing to the eye. The opposite can also work if tension is the purpose of the image. Monochromatic (one color) images convey mood and feeling.
- The silhouette. We end up getting a silhouette when we don't want by shooting a subject that is back lit. The camera's meter reads the bright background and the subject get less than needed exposure. It can still be an interesting photograph if we want to show shape but not detail of an object. Any subject that is lit from behind and has little light illuminating the side facing the camera will be silhouetted.
- High key/low key. High key images have mostly light tones like a bride in a wedding dress against a white background. They convey a joyous or happy feeling and are typically low contrast images. Low key images have mostly dark tones and express more of a dramatic darker mood. Hard lighting creates drama by hiding detail in shadows.
- Time. By stopping action we can see things we could not see at normal speed. Everyone has seen the photograph by Harold Edgerton of a bullet stopped in mid flight as it exits an apple. Many camera exposures are faster than we can see and stop the action of our world. By using slow shutter speeds we can also blur our world creating very interesting images, whether it is stars streaking across the sky or water falling over rocks.
- Water. Water is a subject all its own. Moving water can be stopped or blurred into a surreal image by the photographer's choice of shutter speed. Still water can reflect a whole landscape or a simple form. Even a small puddle can reflect the whole world. Ripples in water distort objects and gives them unique form.
- Go up close. Just about everyone can improve their photographs by moving a little closer to their subject and filling a little more of the viewfinder. Those who get intimate with their subjects are drawn to macro photography.
- Try a portrait. Portraits can be of any subject. What makes it a portrait is that it is staged. By staging your photograph you have to give it thought. What is the subject going to be? Where is it going to be? What kind of background? What kind of lighting? What kind of mood? Don't forget your depth of field.
- Using focal length. Play with your zoom when looking for your photograph. Change from wide angle to telephoto to see if something unique strikes you. This allows you to change perspective without moving.
- Photograph what excites you. My creativity tanks when I am forced to photograph something that doesn't excite me. When I'm depressed it seems there are no images anywhere. If you find something that excites you you have a better chance to get a good image.
- Try something new. We never learn anything different if we keep doing the same thing. We are creatures of habit so go ahead, close your mind and open your eyes.